How To Be Remembered — Badly

ClimateCongress Jim Inhofe
How To Be Remembered — Badly

The problem with taking on the scientific consensus is that you’ve gotta live — and die — with being catastrophically wrong.

Former Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who died on Tuesday at 89, embodied this with unparalleled fervor. His crusade against climate science, scientists, and climate change action so dominated his decades of public life that it will feature prominently in any obituary’s first sentence.

For example, CNN: “Former US Sen. Jim Inhofe, a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who was one of the most vocal climate change deniers in the US Senate, has died.”

For many, it’s not even first line fodder, but headline fodder. New York Times: “James M. Inhofe, Senator Who Denied Climate Change, Dies at 89.” NBC News: “Former Sen. Jim Inhofe, defense hawk who called human-caused climate change a ‘hoax,’ dies at 89.” Occasionally it simply becomes one of his titles, like “Senator,” as with the Washington Post: “James Inhofe, Oklahoma senator and climate change denier, dies at 89.”

Inhofe died while much of the country bakes in a record-breaking heat wave, while the Houston area, deluged once more, sits in darkness, soon after a precedent-setting hurricane demolished entire Caribbean islands. He left a world that has largely followed all the scientists’ projections and models on its upward temperature and catastrophe trajectory for decades, the bits of science that he insisted on rejecting, without reason or evidence, over and over and over. He checked out just when some of the dreaded thresholds and tipping points have started to come into view. In a tangible, sweaty sense that very few people can truly claim, his life’s work made this planet a fundamentally worse place for the rest of us.

He began his campaign against climate science in the early 2000s, and basically never stopped. He harangued and undercut the EPA, grandstanded and lied and misled in Senate hearings and on the Senate floor — yes, the snowball incident may have the most staying power, but it was far from his only performance — and in general he made every possible effort to slow or stop any efforts to limit fossil fuel use and cut emissions. He also wrote an incredibly stupid book.

Of course, Inhofe did plenty of other (bad) things in his years of public service. He opposed LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights, healthcare reform, the right to not get shot by 300 million guns, and so on. But nothing else but climate change will get top billing, today or in some figuratively dusty textbook of the future; he’s the guy who tried with all his considerable power to break the world, and always will be.

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